January 9, 2015 at 5:00 am ET
Over the holidays, I took advantage of a transcontinental flight to read through the CQ bio-sketches of the dozens of new members of the 114th Congress. In reading their backgrounds, I was struck by the number of House members who have secured promotions and will be moving across the Capitol complex to serve in the body’s upper chamber. In fact, 6 of them will be joining 47 House alumni who will be continuing to serve in the Senate this session. Now more than half of U.S. Senators have come from the U.S. House “farm team” – certainly that has an impact on the culture and functioning of the Senate but that will be the topic of a column another day. In addition to those already familiar faces, many new players will be descending on Washington, D.C. this week to be sworn in and learn the way of sausage-making in the nation’s capital.
So, who are these folks? And what do they know about health care?
While many of the newly-elected Members ran “against Obamacare” or are coming to D.C. “to repeal the medical device tax” and “improve veterans’ health care,” I looked beyond the campaign rhetoric to see if any of the newbies are bringing health care knowledge or particular health policy expertise to help inform the consideration and debate over the cost of health care, the sustainability of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, privacy – to name just a few of the issues facing our nation’s policymakers.
Although with the close of the 113th Congress, numerous health policy experts retired – notably Senators Harkin (D-IA) and Coburn (R-OK) and Representatives Dingell (D-MI) and Waxman (D-CA). There are a good number of freshman are bringing real-world health care experience to their public service roles. A few folks to watch and get to know, include:
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), a physician, is relocating from Independence Avenue to Constitution Avenue and is expected to continue to build on the active role he played in the House as a member of the GOP Doctors Caucus and of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee.
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) served from 2007-2009 as the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Of note, he has prepared a white paper outlining what he recommends as the substantive replacement for the Affordable Care Act.
Senator Thom Thillis (R-NC) brings experience as a medical device manufacturing company research manager, as well as a computer systems analyst. He sounds like someone who can provide insider knowledge and insight regarding health information technology, medical innovation, and the like.
Representative Ralph Abraham (R-LA-5) is a doctor two ways – a veterinarian and a physician. He has expressed interest in expanding the use of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) as one possible way to improve the nation’s health care system.
Representative Brian Babin (R-TX-36) is one of the many new House members who has served in the military but stands apart as the only one who spent three years as an Air Force dental officer.
Representative Ken Buck (R-CO-4) brings a different kind of health care expertise to his new role – one of a health care consumer. He recently battled cancer (lymphoma) and he joins a number of Congressional colleagues who are cancer survivors.
Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA-1), a pharmacist and pharmacy owner, arrives at the Capitol during a time when myriad prescription drug issues are top of mind. It is likely his opinion will be highly sought after with respect to drug pricing, patent and generic drug policies, prescription drug misuse and abuse, etc.
Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3) worked previously as the CEO of the West Virginia Medical Foundation, which works to “improve the health of all West Virginians by promoting health education, leadership and research; encouraging healthy lifestyles and enhancing access to quality care.”
Representative Mark Takai (D-HI-1) brings public health and fitness experience to the Congress having served as state public health program aide, in addition to being a two-time high school All-American swimmer in the 100-yard breaststroke.
And, since I did read through all the bios of the incoming members, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the (non-health care) background I found most interesting – Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT-At Large). The new Congressman is a former Division I football player (University of Oregon), Navy Seal, and a trained geologist – someone who likely will be popular among those interested in veterans and natural resources issues, as well as PAC-12 fans (myself included).
Ilisa Halpern Paul, MPP, is president of the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle.